Derek Bryer loves his life. His job as an assistant director at Joy Universe, the second-largest theme park complex on the planet, makes him indirectly responsible for bringing joy (pun intended) to millions of people. So what if none of his relationships are that close? Everyone he meets loves him.
Except Trav Jones. For some reason, the visiting Broadway performer would rather Derek just go away. He appreciates Derek’s work ethic, though, and after Trav steps up when Derek desperately needs someone to fill in for his sick staff, Derek seizes the chance to convince Trav he’s not such a bad guy.
Falling in love while distracted by a murder at the park, food poisoning, and colleagues laying bets on their relationship won’t be easy, but between the two of them and with the magic of Joy Universe, they’ve got this.
He grins at me. “Can I use your number for more than just confirming dates?”
Heat climbs up my neck and floods my face, and I know I must be red. Christ, I’ve always blushed easily, but I spend more time red-faced around this guy than anyone else I can remember. “Maybe.” I meant it to sound flirtatious, but it comes out sounding more like a parent who means no, but doesn’t want to say it for fear of incurring a tantrum.
What the hell is wrong with me? I’m no Casanova, but I’m not a reclusive virgin, either. I usually have a pretty good dating life. I know how to flirt.
I pull out my phone. “What’s your number? I’ll text you.”
He rattles off the digits. I put them in my phone and then send him a text. The faint ding from his pocket tells me he got it.
The rest of the ride back to my resort is silent, and I’m pretty sure it’s my fault. Our conversation over dinner was so easy and fun—but my stupid failed attempt to be flirty seems to have killed the vibe. Is he regretting the whole thing? Wondering how he can get out of our date on Thursday?
He turns off the road onto the driveway of the resort, but instead of pulling up to the entrance, he takes the road that loops around the property to the four parking lots and the three other shuttle stops.
“Where—” I begin, but he interrupts me.
“Which is the closest parking lot to your room?”
Oh. He’s being thoughtful and saving me the seven-minute (no, I didn’t time it—the receptionist told me when I checked in) walk from the main building to the building that houses my room.
“The west one,” I tell him, and then we both fall silent again as he skilfully navigates along the deserted, mostly dark road. I rack my brain for something to say. How did this happen? Twenty minutes ago I was one half of an interesting, fun conversation. How did we go from that to awkward silence?
It has to be the idea of dating that’s turned us into mere acquaintances with little in common. Right? Until he confirmed that we were on a date, and I asked him on another one, everything was fine. After that, it all went downhill.
Wait… he knew all along that we were on a date. I was the one who wasn’t sure what he thought it was. Does that mean this is all me? Am I the reason for the awkwardness?
I’m saved from further introspection (although I suspect it’s going to keep me up most of the night) when Derek pulls into the west parking lot and finds a spot at the far end. The lot is pretty well-lit, but back in this corner there are more shadows.
I undo my seat belt. I’m almost desperate to get out of the car and away from this tension, but at the same time, I’m terrified that if I leave it like this, I’m going to get a text from Derek, canceling our date. What can I say to make it all better?
Derek’s hand on my face makes me jump.
“Whoa! Sorry, I didn’t mean….” He starts to pull away, but I grab his hand and hold it against my cheek. I like having him touch me.
Is this weird? Maybe he was just trying to get my attention and didn’t actually want to hold my face.
I drop my hand to my lap, giving him the opportunity to pull back. My face is hot, and I’m thankful for the dim light. He can probably still see that I’m blushing, but not exactly how red I am.
His fingers lightly stroke my cheek.
My breath stutters. I slowly turn to him. His face is closer than I expected, and there’s a soft smile on his lips. Even in the dimness of the car, I can see how warm the expression in his eyes is.
I swallow. His smile grows.
“I love when you blush,” he says. “It’s so—”
“Sweet?” I interrupt acidly. He shakes his head.
“Hot.” The word sits between us. Hot? Does he mean literally? Because, yeah, my skin gets hot when I—
Derek leans in and kisses me, and I get it. Hot. Derek thinks it’s hot when I blush. Really?
Also, man can he kiss.
I gotta be honest, the next few minutes kind of blur out. I’m too focused on Derek’s mouth on mine, his hands, his body—because my hands get busy too. The only words I can actually think are adjectives: warm, hard, wet, silky….
I’ve got my hands in his pants (and can I just say wow?) when it finally occurs to me that as cushy as Derek’s car is, it’s not roomy enough for us to fuck—well, not comfortably. I jerk back from his kiss. “Not here,” I pant. Crap, Kev’s likely to be back at our room by now. He was saying earlier that he was exhausted, not having had a day off, and wanted an early night. “Your place?” He’s gotta live in Joyville, right? That’s what, half an hour away?
Maybe we can get a room. We’re at a resort. I’m sure he gets an employee discount here too.
Derek sighs and pulls back, stroking my chest under my polo one last time before drawing his hand out. I miss it instantly.
Louisa Masters started reading romance much earlier than her mother thought she should. While other teenagers were sneaking out of the house, Louisa was working out how to read romance novels without being discovered. As an adult, she feeds her addiction in every spare second, only occasionally tearing herself away to do things like answer the phone and pay bills. She lives in Melbourne, Australia, where she whines about the weather for most of the year while secretly admitting she’ll probably never move.